‘Building ties for the 21st century’

Interview with Le Yucheng, Chinese Ambassador to India, who emphasises a new type of relationship with New Delhi that is based on win-win cooperation

April 01, 2015 03:53 am | Updated 02:20 pm IST

H.E. Chinese Ambassador to India Le Yucheng

H.E. Chinese Ambassador to India Le Yucheng

On the eve of the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and India on April 1, 1950, the Chinese Ambassador to India, Le Yucheng, in written answers provided to a set of questions posed by Srinivasan Ramani , emphasised the need for a renewal of China-India ties in tune with the realities of the 21st century. Excerpts follow. Later, in an interaction in Chennai, the Ambassador identified several areas, which he suggested present new avenues for cooperation between India and China. These include infrastructure development and regional security apart from already expanding ties

At what stage are the two countries after the 18th round of talks on boundary negotiations held recently? Can we expect a substantive breakthrough since the start of fresh talks?

On March 23, 2015, the 18th Meeting of the Special Representatives on the China-India boundary question was held in New Delhi. Yang Jiechi, State Councilor and Special Representative on the Chinese side, and Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor and the Special Representative on the Indian side, exchanged in-depth views on the boundary question and had strategic communications on bilateral relations and international and regional issues of common concern. This is the first boundary question talk since the new Indian government took office, and after the appointment of the new Indian Special Representative. The meeting was in a friendly and candid atmosphere.

The two sides reviewed the positive progress achieved at the previous Special Representatives Meetings over the past years, and stressed the progress of the framework negotiation along the right track on the basis of the realised results and consensus, while taking the big picture of bilateral relations and the long-term interests of the two peoples into consideration. Both sides reaffirmed the need to properly manage and control conflicts and join efforts to maintain peace and tranquility in the boundary area before the boundary question is finally settled.

As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in the press conference held by the Third Session of the Twelfth National People’s Congress recently, the China-India boundary question is a legacy of history. At the moment, the boundary negotiation is in the process of building up small positive developments. It is like climbing a mountain. The going is tough and that is only because we are on the way up. This is all the more reason that we should do more to strengthen China-India cooperation, so that we can facilitate the settlement of the boundary question.

The Chinese government has announced the Maritime Silk Route and Silk Road initiatives (also called ‘Belt and Road’) recently. Can you explain these initiatives and how they pertain to China-India relations?

The ‘Belt and Road’ initiatives put forward by China aims at achieving development and prosperity for the various countries along the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ and the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ by linking the past with the present, landmass with seas, and development strategies of various countries. The Vision and Action plans of the initiative have just been issued by the Chinese government.

The initiative will forge four billion people from more than 60 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa into a community of common destiny and interests. If I may use a musical metaphor, it is not China’s solo, but a symphony performed by all these countries. The ‘Belt and Road’ initiatives will observe the principles of discussing, building and sharing together, through policy coordination, road connectivity, unimpeded trade, monetary circulation, and mutual understanding. These initiatives have been put forward to promote economic cooperation, and are not driven by geopolitics, or an attempt to seek spheres of influence.

Since the launch of these initiatives, significant headway has been made in building new mechanisms and laying down new policy frameworks. More than 50 countries along the ‘Belt and Road’ have expressed support; China has either already signed or is in the process of signing agreements with several countries. A set of programmes involving building infrastructure, setting up of industries and boosting people-to-people contacts have already been started. The first Central Asia International Freight Train from Lianyungang (Jiangsu Province), China to Almaty, Kazakhstan, began operation on February 25. The construction of Line D of the China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline project has already begun. The eastern route of the China-Russia natural gas pipeline project will be constructed very soon and the agreement on the western route will be signed shortly. All the above projects mark the early harvest of the initiatives. The founding of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has not only been welcomed by the Asian countries, but developed countries, including France, Germany, Britain, Canada have also expressed willingness to join it. The bank currently has 41 prospective founding member countries.

India enjoys a unique geographical location, was a significant country along the ancient silk roads and spice route, and is situated at the crossing point of the contemporary ‘Belt and Road’. India is China’s natural and significant partner in promoting the ‘Belt and Road’ initiatives. Last year, India became one of the first prospective founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and hosted its second chief negotiators’ meeting in Mumbai in late January this year. In the second half of this year, India will also host the third meeting of BCIM Economic Corridor Joint Working Group. All these reflect the cooperative attitude of India to the ‘Belt and Road’ initiatives. China is willing to strengthen communication and coordination with India, to link the ‘Belt and Road’ initiatives with India’s ‘Spice Route’ and ‘Mausam’ projects, and bring tangible benefits to the peoples in our two countries and throughout the region.

There is a trade imbalance between India and China, with India’s trade deficit being around $37.8 billion in 2014. At the same time, bilateral trade in 2014 topped $70.6 billion. How do you think the imbalance can be corrected?

The Chinese side does not like trade surplus and prefers balanced trade. China takes the Indian concern of trade imbalance very seriously. Although the main reason for our trade imbalance lies in objective factors such as the differences in industrial structures of our two countries, we are willing to provide opportunities to increase India’s exports to China.

Since 2008, the Ministry of Commerce of China has sent six trade delegations to boost imports from India. China warmly welcomes the Indian side to expand trade through various trading platforms, such as China-South Asia Expo and China Import and Export Fair (Canton Fair), and the Import Promotion Centres recently built in Shanghai, Tianjin and other cities. In order to increase the popularity of Indian products, China also welcomes Indian Chambers of Commerce to conduct promotion events in China. Besides, China hopes that India would ease restrictions on exporting its competitive products such as iron ore, etc. to China, reduce tariffs, and encourage Indian companies to export more agricultural products. To encourage Chinese enterprises to invest in India and participate in the ‘Make in India’ campaign, the key is to reduce restrictions and streamline procedures on business visas. More Chinese businessmen will bring more investment, which will help improve trade balance.

There is a sense among Indian strategic thinkers and in the media that China’s cooperation with other South Asian countries is part of a policy of encirclement. How would you answer these concerns?

China adheres to peaceful development. China does not have any tradition of expansion, or any intention to expand. India suffered invasion and occupation by other major powers in history, while China as the largest neighbour always kept friendly relations with India, kept up communication and exchange between civilisations, and has never conspired against India or other neighbouring countries.

The cooperation between China and other South Asian countries is based on the foundation of common development. South Asian countries are willing to cooperate with China, and ride the Chinese express train of rapid development. China is also willing to share development opportunities with South Asian countries. Cooperation between China and South Asian countries is open, transparent, and beneficial to all the concerned countries. There are no ulterior motives and there is no need for India to worry. China is also willing to work with India to conduct trilateral cooperation and multilateral cooperation in the region, to achieve win-win cooperation and common development.

srinivasan.vr @thehindu.co.in

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